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MEN OF MATHEMATICS
bering his own inventions and once even disputed that a certain
theorem of his own could possibly be true. Even comparatively
trivial things that every working mathematician knows were
sources of perpetual wonder and delight to Sylvester. As a
consequence almost any field of mathematics offered an en-
chanting world for discovery to Sylvester, -while Cayley glanced
serenely over it all^saw what he wanted, took it, and went on to
something fresh.
In 1838, at the age of twenty-four, Sylvester got his first
regular job, that of Professor of Natural Philosophy (science in
general, physics in particular) at University College, London,
where his old teacher De Morgan was one of his colleagues.
Although he had studied chemistry at Cambridge, and retained
a lifelong interest in it, Sylvester found the teaching of science
thoroughly uncongenial and, after about two years, abandoned
it. In the meantime he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal
Society at the unusually early age of twenty-five. Sylvester's
mathematical merits were so conspicuous that they could not
escape recognition, but they did not help him into a suitable
position,
At this point in his career Sylvester set out on one of the most
singular misadventures of his life. Depending upon how we look
at it, this mishap is silly, ludicrous, or tragic. Sanguine and filled
with his usual enthusiasm, he crossed the Atlantic to become
Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia in
1841 - the year in which Boole published his discovery of
invariants.
Sylvester endured the University only about three months.
The refusal of the University authorities to discipline a young
gentleman who had insulted him caused the professor to resign.
For over a year after this disastrous experience Sylvester tried
vainly to secure a suitable position, soliciting - unsuccessfully -
both Harvard and Columbia Universities. Failing, he returned
to [England*
Sylvester's experiences in America gave "Mô his fill of teach-
ing for the next ten years. On returning to London he became
an energetic actuary for a life insurance company. Such work
for a creative mathematician is poisonous drudgery, and